[Battle of Manila Essay]

By Danielle Tamara Fabella
2nd Prize Winner, Battle of Manila Essay Writing Contest 2019


I grew up not having been exposed to much of Filipino history, and, despite having a grandmother who served as a field nurse during the war, knew little of what happened during the Battle of Manila and this period of our history in general. My knowledge of what happened in Manila at this time was limited to cursory details, such as that the Japanese had invaded Manila during World War II and that Manila, specifically Fort Santiago in Intramuros, was the site of particular devastation. I knew that the Japanese seemed to feel a sense of remorse toward the Filipinos and few Filipinos who had lived through this period harbored anger toward the Japanese. The gravity of what happened in Manila was something I had not properly taken the time to truly understand.

Listening to James Scott’s lecture at the University of the Philippines Diliman last February 12, 2019, reinforced what I had previously known about the Battle of Manila, but emphasized it in greater, ruthless detail. My main takeaway from his lecture was not just how high the death toll was during the battle, but how brutally this toll was extracted. Professor Scott spent the majority of his lecture recounting the multiple atrocities the Japanese committed upon the denizens of Manila, reading almost like exaggerated fiction because of how truly depraved and inhuman these acts committed were. Living a sheltered life growing up made it hard for me and likely many of the students present during the lecture to comprehend the idea of mass beheadings and the indiscriminate killings of the old and young alike, and I believe this is a testament to the importance of holding lectures like these in universities, where the youth would otherwise not have the chance to learn in detail about these periods of our history outside of the context of assigned readings and classroom discussions.

The relevance of the Battle of Manila in the wider scope of Philippine history cannot be understated, as it remains the bloody climax to centuries of colonization and oppression. This devastating period saw an incomparable loss of cultural, social, economic, and especially human capital that is still undoubtedly felt today. The Philippines lost so much during that battle that, despite the restoration efforts that would follow, it would still never get back. The Battle of Manila serves as a stark reminder of the Manila that we once and could still have had today.

In the more general context of the ethical lessons we learn from history itself, the battle exemplifies the true destructive and often aimless impact of war, both to its environment and to the people caught in the crossfires. Professor Scott described how the destruction wrought from the fighting came from both the Japanese and the Americans, who were supposedly there with the goal to liberate Manila. Such a lesson is particularly relevant today, where the number of people living throughout Metro Manila has reached an unprecedented high. If an event were to happen that would reach even half of the devastation of the Battle of Manila, the expected death toll would be inconceivable.

Allowing future generations to forget what happened during the Battle of Manila would be a crime against all the lives that were lost and would be a crime against our history as a whole. We are all accountable to the victims of the month-long battle to preserve their memories and safeguard against any political circumstance that could trigger such an event to happen again.

As a Fine Arts student, I am constantly reminded in my studies of Philippine art history of the artworks and cultural milestones that were lost during the war. I feel the relevance of the Battle of Manila as a reminder of how I can use my abilities as an artist to document and preserve history. In today’s fast-paced social media-based climate, preservation is invaluable, and studying about and revisiting the Battle of Manila, whether through books or lectures like Professor Scott’s, can prevent these crucial periods from becoming forgotten historical footnotes.

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